Show must go on for Libya's threatened actresses

Some in Libya believe women who take to the stage are guilty of "indecent behaviour".

TRIPOLI - For 17-year-old Libyan actress Rawasi Baeeq, no performance will be good enough to placate her online critics.

Some in the conservative country believe woman like Baeeq have no place on the stage and have taken to social media to ask armed groups controlling Tripoli to arrest them for "indecent behaviour".

Baeeq dismisses the threat. She performs with the 62 member Tripoli-based theatre group El-Setara, meaning "The Curtain", which was set up last year and who produce works based on the violent recent history of the north African country.

"I cannot blame those who spoke ill of us. I will continue, and I love theatre and art," Baeeq said during her group's daily rehearsals.

"As female actors in Libya, we are delivering a lovely message. We are delivering a message that if a woman has the talent, she could practise it normally here."

Plays have a long tradition in Libya going back to the time of the Romans who built theatres in Leptis Magna and Sabratha, two ancient settlements in the west which attracted tourists until the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The former leader tolerated plays, which were popular, especially at night during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, as long as sensitive or political themes were not touched.

His overthrow ended the police state monitoring every aspect of life. But the new era also saw the rise of Islamists, long oppressed under his rule, curbing down on entertainment deemed as violating the norms.

In November 2017, an armed group linked to ultra-conservative Salafists closed down a comic festival in the capital, a rare sign of cultural activity.

Despite the threats, El-Setara have performed works in several cities about civilians getting caught in the crossfire and armed groups fighting for control of the country.

The group, which includes men, women and children aged between 10 and 40, is looking to expand.

"There is a great demand for participating in the training," said Khaled Saleh Ghamaty, the 32-year-old director.